While the state of Georgia is taking steps to make teacher certification a more rigorous process and raise the bar for teacher preparation programs, graduates from the University of North Georgia's (UNG) College of Education are ready to meet new standards that take effect in February.
"We are committed to ensuring our teacher preparation program meets and exceeds the high expectations of families and the American public," said Dr. Bob Michael, dean of the College of Education at UNG. "Our graduates are in high demand because superintendents and principals know that teachers who earn a degree from UNG are well-equipped to help students succeed."
The University System of Georgia (USG) will begin using data to track and strengthen the effectiveness of its teacher programs, mirroring the statewide move toward tougher standards. The USG is rolling out a new, data-driven Teacher Preparation Accountability Report, the first of which is scheduled for May 2014. The annual report will assess each of the USG's teacher preparation programs and look at factors that affect teacher quality such as accreditation status, quality indicators of the current graduating class, and employer and graduate satisfaction with the preparedness of teachers.
"This is a major shift for Georgia," said USG Chancellor Hank Huckaby. "We are no longer focusing on inputs, the courses and other programs teachers must take, but looking at outputs, how effective is a teacher in actually teaching our students to an identified level of academic achievement."
UNG's education program ensures teachers are well-versed in subject matter as well as education theory and practical teaching skills. UNG students have routinely surpassed state averages for the overall pass rate for the Georgia Assessments for the Certification of Educators (GACE) exams, which are required for professional licensure, and the most recent year's data indicates a 98.5 percent pass rate.
Students also gain classroom skills through UNG's professional development community (PDC) model, which puts university students and their professors in area public schools in a two-year, full-immersion model that translates into at least 50 percent more field experience than is required for teacher certification. Student teachers in the program take their college courses at the public school, providing a more integrated experience that includes pre-planning activities and parent-teacher conferences.
Kelly Henson, executive secretary of the Georgia Professional Standards Commission responsible for certifying all teachers before they can enter a classroom, also was frank: "No teacher will be certified to teach in a classroom in Georgia without passing tests and an ability to demonstrate understanding of both content knowledge and classroom teaching. And the bar will be set very high."
Henson briefed the USG Board of Regents during the board's January meeting on the effort to strengthen teacher preparation through key changes, including changes in teacher certification, the introduction of a new Teacher and Leader Preparation Programs Effectiveness Measures (TPPEM), and changes in how the programs that prepare teachers are held accountable. These new changes, which will affect all teacher programs in both public and private colleges and universities, are the result of a four-year effort among the Professional Standards Commission, the USG and the Georgia Department of Education.Along with the statewide changes come some consequences to programs that fail to meet the new standards. Henson said that if the new accountability measures are not met by a specific program, then after the first year, the program is rated as "at-risk of low performing" or "low performing." Such ranked programs will have three years to improve; after three years of unsatisfactory progress, such programs would be terminated.
The effectiveness of UNG's teacher preparation program was evaluated in fall 2012, when the College of Education earned full accreditation from the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) for its undergraduate- and graduate-level programs. The national accreditation includes a seven-year review of its programs and effectiveness measures, as well as a site visit. In their final report, NCATE reviewers called the school's approach to teacher training notable and commended faculty for their collaboration with pre-K through 12th-grade partners throughout the region, giving the highest rating possible in the area of best practices in service.